In Paul Virilio’s paper on the speed of information, he attempts to make sense of the transition from an analog world to a digital one. Although I think that many of the points he makes are valid, I would argue that digital reality is not at odds with what he considers to be the “real” world.
Firstly, I must define what digital reality and tangible reality are. The digital world is just that: it requires the existence of computers and technology to keep it running. The internet itself is merely the result of connections between computers. The digital world does not, however, ignore temporal boundaries. The digital world does not tell users what the future is (at least beyond a few days of weather predictions), but it does catalog some of what the past has taught us. In this way, the internet is like a book. The digital world is accessible to any person around the world with a working computer and an internet connection. It does not permeate everything everywhere, but where it does exist, it shortens the time and space between users.
The “real” tangible world is clumsy, comparatively. The time required to travel from one end to the other is enormous compared to the time it takes to send an e-mail from Shanghai to San Antonio. For someone who doesn’t speak Mandarin, translating that message is slow and laborious, but with the help of the internet, it can be managed instantaneously.
The digital world cannot exist without the analog world: it gave birth to the internet and maintains it. The opposite is not true: the analog world does and has existed without the digital world, but what the digital world offers makes the analog world easier. It just makes more sense. In the analog world, news of an event in Cairo may take weeks to reach the other side of the planet. With the assistance of digital connections from one person to another (think social media), that information is spread within minutes.
The sheer numbers of internet users, the people who live at least in part in the digital world, help give it power. When the Boston marathon was interrupted by bombs, these people were able to take photos of the event, send updates and even help lost attendees find their families. Users of the website Reddit assisted in finding the culprits responsible for setting off the bombs within a few days, where through traditional detective work it may have taken a week or more.
The barriers that exist in the “real” world are passed over by the digital world, which makes communication almost effortless. The sheer amount of content and the number of users give it power, and allow people (like myself) to make a living through online sales interactions, content regulation and advertising. Unless we find ways for our analog reality to overcome these boundaries, the digital world will not go away any time soon.